Reading Between the (Head)Lines

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Was Junior Seau's Suicide Caused By Head Trauma?

Was Seau's death the result of a brain injury or mental health?

Junior Seau's suicide is the latest in a string of disturbing NFL players' deaths. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL are already facing a lawsuit by hundreds of former players who claim the NFL not only failed to properly treat concussions, but also suppressed links between football and brain injuries.

Seau may or may not have had prior brain injuries, but I do not believe that was why he drove his SUV off a cliff in 2010, and I also don't believe it was behind the self inflicted gunshot to his chest. I'm not the only one, either. Some of Seau's family, friends, and teammates now wonder if his mental health deteriorated after his retirement forced him to face life as a spectator rather than a player.

Seau was a 10-time All-Pro and a 12-time Pro Bowl pick; in 1990 he was named to the NFL's All Decade Team. He sustained his fair share of injuries when he announced his first retirement from the NFL in 2006. Four days later he signed with the New England Patriots. He again retired from his amazing career in 2010. His death has been ruled a suicide, and now the number of concussions he received is being examined as a reason for his death.

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Many people look at bigger-than-life sports stars and think they're all living the high life. The truth is, no matter how rich a person may be, no matter how huge their mansion, how many Twitter followers they have or how wonderful their lives look from the afar, no one knows what's going on inside their head.

For Seau, family and friends are portraying him as a super guy who would NEVER commit suicide without having serious brain damage. There could be no other explanation, right? WRONG! No matter how wonderful a person is, if they suffer from chemical imbalance depression, suicide is a very real threat. Depression is the number one cause of suicide, and you need not have suffered a brain injury to develop depression.

Men, sportsmen—and I'll say especially football players, are suppose to be men—tough, strong, dangerous, resilient, in charge—you know, a MAN. But the truth is, once the illness of depression sets it, all bets are off. Men don't want to admit they need help because they don't want to be perceived as weak. Depression is not weakness, folks. It's an illness, and unless we stop stigmatizing this, the deaths will continue.

There is a saying that "A smile is a language understood by all persons." I beg to differ. An individual with depression does not understand a smile. They are living in their own hell and need help. It's a sickness, not a sadness, and we need to acknowledge that and spread the word. 

Dale Archer, M.D., is a clinical psychiatrist and author of The New York Times bestseller, Better Than Normal: How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional.

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